Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The crazy world of football

So the past few weeks have shown us how crazy football can be. A couple of thoughts on some goings on -

  • How much has changed after two games for England - Prior to the matches against Israel and Russia, the calls were for Steve McClaren should be sacked and that the team was destine to miss the European tournament. How much has changed after a pair of thumpings at Wembley. Now McClaren is being spoken about as the greatest English manager, Emile Heskey is making noise that he deserves more starts up front for England over players such as Rooney, and now England is a juggernaut. The reality is that England should not have been put in difficulty in this group, even with the injuries. Israel is a gadfly when it comes to qualifying so getting a draw in Israel was par for the course. The 3-0 victory meant that regular service was back. As for Russia, they are overrated...the only reason for them being hyped is due to their manager - Hiddink. Otherwise their talent and ability are middle of the table in Europe. England should be first or second in this group, the match versus Croatia will determine who wins and who ends runner up. I think the reality will come crashing back if and when England struggle against Croatia and McClaren is right back on the hot seat. And no, Heskey, while playing admirably, cannot force Rooney to the bench. And with Owen destined to the injury list I have a feeling we will see Rooney alone up front.
  • The French are in 3rd place in their group! Well that is what happens when you drop 6 points to Scotland! The world has obviously gone mad. Scotland still has the more difficult road to navigate so I think France will still find a way to get to the Euro. But the Scots are not making things easy. The reality is that France still seems to be trying to find their post -Zidane system, determine who their #1 striker is, and how to manage their midfield. Domenech has 3 more matches to get this right, otherwise I am sure he will be joining Jose in the unemployment line, albeit with much less money in the bank.
  • Speaking of Mourinho and Chelsea, it is obvious that the team is spinning out of control. After listening and reading about what has transpired in Stamford Bridge I see this situation similar to what happened to the Yankees with Steinbrenner - a team who's owner forgets that he is an expert in whatever field provided him the fortune necessary to own an expensive toy but not necessarily on the nuances and complexity of modern sports. In the 1980s, the "Boss" thought he knew and understood baseball and got his fingerprints all over the Yankee's day to day operations, almost wrecking on of the most storied franchises in baseball. I see the same thing with Abramovich. Granted not sure what line of business he is expert in, other than cuddling up to former KGB and fleecing his fellow country men and women. But the Siberian Billionaire has started to meddle with the team and players, starting last season when he decided to bring Sheva and Ballack into an already loaded team. It was clear that Mourinho had no use for either high priced, over the hill, superstars. When Mourinho had come to Stamford Bridge, he was allowed to make the moves he wanted, bringing players like Drogba, Kalou, Essein, etc. Granted it was easy to do so with the Abramovich riches, but still players the Special Whiner was targeting. Bringing in two high paid, massive ego players such as Sheva and Ballack placed Mourinho in a difficult managerial position, he had a good rotation going with Drogba being his #1 striker, with Lampard his #1 attacking midfielder...with Sheva and Ballack in the mix where do you play these two players who are used to being the focal points of their squads? Then the Russian Megalomaniac decides that he wants his footie team to play more "entertaining" football...neglecting the fact Chelsea had won back to back premierships, 2 Carling Cups, and an FA Cup....last time I check those 2 Premiership titles had tripled the amount of league titles the Blues had in their trophy case....last time I checked winning silverware was very entertaining. It was clear that Mourinho and Abramovich could no longer maintain a working relationship and the one that writes the checks usually wins those battles. So where does Chelsea head? Based on this week, potentially right into the toilet...well not the Derby toilet they still have way too much talent. Chelsea need to bring in a manager that can hold sway over the players and be distant enough from Abramovich to command some respect...even Hiddink might not fit that bill. Maybe an ex player would be the best option - Vialli? Zola? There would be no perceived baggage between manager and owner, and the link as a former Chelsea player may buy them some slack. I have a feeling that the next manager will not be a "big name" but a manager looking to ride the Chelsea coattails for a season or two and build their resume, since it is clear that Abramovich will not release his tight hold on the team reigns....the story of Ronaldino coming to Stamford Bridge being any indicator. If Chelsea bring in the bucktooth Brazilian, where is he going to play? Behind the strikers? If so, where does Lampard play? Will he be a second, deeper lying striker behind Drogba? If so, where does Sheva play? Rather than dropping record amounts of money on such players maybe Abramovich can look into developing some youth at Chelsea. Or better yet, allow his football people run the team and not look to run this as a fantasy soccer team....
  • Okay let us stay in England and talk about Arsenal. Undefeated in England and winning their opening Champions league game by 3 goals. Shows once again that the "professor" is the brains behind this team and has an uncanny ability to scout and develop talent (when he retires from Arsenal I would pray that the FFF move ocean and mountain to secure his services as technical director for Les Bleus, let him be the primary organizer for scouting and youth development). Many pundits were wondering if Arsenal would end in 5th place or even 6th....except of course for this pundit. Before we get ahead of ourselves we do need to realize that Arsenal have not faced the steel of the Prem (granted the 3-1 drubbing of Tottenham may count as facing some of the Prem's steel...maybe). Arsenal still have to face Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea. Based on last year's results, Arsenal should fair well against these teams. But if they truly want to challenge and win a title they will need to take the majority of points from these matches. The good news is, Arsenal have fat coffers for transfers....which I think Arsenal still needs some pieces to make a serious run in the Champions League and the Prem. The reality, Arsenal has a weakness in goal and I still believe need a big time striker, Adebayor while having a great start of the season I do not see as a #1 striker that carries you in the Champions League or the Prem. Van Persie, a great player, but injury prone. Maybe with this large war chest Wenger can get a true #1 keeper and a #1 striker....the other area I would like to see some depth is in central defense. I still cringe when Senderos is on the pitch.
I realize there is more goings on, but these are some interesting early season stories I wanted to comment on. There are other interesting situations - Lyon in France, Scolari losing it in Portugal, Adu in Portugal.....maybe later this week.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

"The Special Whiner" is out!

I must have been living in a cave the past 24 hours, just read that the Special One has left Chelsea. Not really a surprise after all the smoke coming from Stanford Bridge around the riff between Mourinho and Abramovich. After winning two Premiership titles for the London club, it became clear that the two massive egos could not coexist running Chelsea. The arrival of Ballack and Shevchenko marked a tipping point, Mourinho did not want the two players while Abramovich was keen on bringing in the two superstars. It was clear when both players rarely saw the pitch during last seasons campaign, that the Chelsea manager was not happy with the purchases.

After a poor start of the season, culminating in a poor draw in the first game of the Champions League against Rosenborg, the Portuguese manager could not handle the heat and decided to leave the cushy payroll and lofty expectations of the Blues. This leaves Chelsea in a precarious position. With Manchester United getting into gear and Arsenal playing like the old Arsenal, they Blues cannot afford to drop any points. All this with the huge Chelsea v Manchester United match on tap for this weekend.

But what about Mourinho? The rumors are already abound -

  • Will he take over the English national team? Doubtful, after the past two performances it will be hard even for the British FA to change managers mid stream. Plus if the catalyst for Mourinho leaving Chelsea was a supposed bust up with John Terry, not sure taking over England would be a good idea.
  • How about Portugal? With Big Phil blowing his top and getting a suspension could this spell a chance for the Special One to take over his native Portugal national squad? Mourinho has always hinted that he is interested in managing his national side.
  • Here is one, how about taking over for troubled Tottenham? Martin Jol has been given an ultimatum to turn things around, and soon. With all the off season spending, Tottenham was thought (especially from this monday morning quarterback) to challenge the top 4 not fighting to avoid relegation. Maybe Jose would relish the opportunity to take over the underachieving and immensely talented North London squad, sticking it to his former employers Chelsea and rivals Arsenal.....
I think Mourinho will sit out the remainder of the season, getting a 25m british pound severance package is not that bad...makes sitting around a little easier. I think that Jose will bid his time and see what happens with the rest of Euro qualifiers as well as which club teams have openings. Some club or nation will be tempted to offer the Special Whiner a job, but buyer beware. Said candidate comes with a serious amount of ego and baggage. He is a winner, but not necessarily a builder.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Someone wake me from this nightmare! Scotland 1 - France 0

Ahhhh I must be having a nightmare or relapsing to what happened last year in Scotland!

The Tuna Army comes to Paris and finds a way to once again get 3 points from Les Bleus.....the world must be upside down.

The credit must go to Scotland, who once again frustrated France with their defensive style and took the opportunities when presented to them. McFadden's goal was absolutely unstoppable, an work of art from 25 meters out. What looked like an innocent clearance from the Scotish end turned out to be a wonder goal that gave the Scots the full 3 points. More than can be said of the French strikers that, once again, had great opportunities but looked to be too "pretty" with their finishing. This pains me but here are some thoughts on the game:

The Good -
  • Kudos to the Scots, not only did the Steak Tartare army come in force but the team showed a true belief in themselves from the get go. They played defensively but at the start of each half attacked the French much higher than would have been expected throwing off any early rhythm Les Bleus may have enjoyed. At times it appeared the Parc des Princes was somewhere Glasgow's suburbs not in Paris.
  • McFadden.... well what can you say about the Everton man, he was very lonely most of the match but made the most of what would usually be only a "half chance." I am sure that even he would admit that 9 times out of 10 that attempt at a wonder strike would have flown harmlessly over the net. But those who dare win...and McFadden dared from 25 meters out and won. Because of that amazing goal Scotland have a legitimate chance of reaching next year's Euro.
  • Gordon, once more the Scotish back stop proved a huge hurdle for any side to overcome. He made a sensational reaction save on a powerful strike from Anelka. He was also calm and decisive on high crosses not allowing France any second chances. If Scotland make it to Switzerland and Austria, much of the thanks should be given to their solid keeper.
The Bad -
  • French finishing, or the lack there of. France had the run of play, clearly dominating the possession of the ball. They did put the Scottish defense in some serious trouble at points of the game, but they could not make the most of what should have been or could have been a 2 - 3 goal game. Trezeguet attempted to score a wonder goal in the first half on a blind volley, Malouda getting a great ball from Trezegol in the second half wasted time in trying to get the ball to his favorite left foot rather than striking with his right allowing the Scottish defense to snuff out the threat, Anelka forced a great save from Gordon but he should have taken a touch, and Ribery on a great ball on the penalty spot tried to guide his shot in only to see it hit directly at the Scottish keeper.
  • French creativity, France was too easy to read for most of the game. They would pass the ball around nicely, try to make a flank run and then just blindly hit a cross, only to find 6 Scottish defenders for 1 French striker.
  • I have to question Domenech's game plan and substitutions. First I think that Trezegol should not be blamed for this lose as he unfairly was for the one in Scotland. He did have some good opportunities and was able to distribute some great passes from his post in the penalty area. But I have to wonder why Nasri was not starting....Domenech had to know that Scotland was going to play defensive, he needed another player in the midfield that could break that block. Maybe Nasri need not start but he sure should have come in sooner than he did. The Scottish goal was not a defensive issue, but more a wonderful strike from an individual. Maybe a Nasri - Ribery - Malouda combination would have been too much individual ball handling skill and speed for Scotland to defend....I guess we will never find out.
The Ugly
  • French supporters were for the most part silent and when they were making noise it was to whistle their team! The PSG stadium looked more like it belonged in Scotland with all the Blue and White flags ringing the stadium. Maybe French fans have become a bit blase with their national team....maybe the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Cup victories have made us a little too arrogant and disinterested....maybe we are still trying to find this generation's Zidane who we can rally around. Whatever the case France need to rally behind Les Bleus!

So what does this all mean? Basically that Group B is tighter than ever. As it stand Italy and Scotland would be heading to the Euro -

Faroe Islands90093290

However the last three match days will prove very interesting to say the least. Each team has 9 points to play for, however the top two teams will have to face one another in Scotland.

Assuming France beats Faroe Islands and Lithuania (big assumptions after today's showing) they will have 25 points with the last game in the Ukraine. Scotland play the Ukraine at home and then Georgia away, and finish hosting the Italians. While Italy have Georgia at home and Faroe Islands, with a trip to Scotland sandwiched in between.

France could head to Kiev on 25 points with Scotland on 25 (a draw with Ukraine and win over Georgia) and Italy on 23 (but really 26 since I have to assume the Azurri can beat the Faroe's). Which means the Italy - Scotland match is monumental for all three teams. If Italy were to win that game, the most points Scotland could have would be 27 points. Italy would be in, and it would be down to France winning in Kiev. If Scotland wins, then Italy is stuck at 26 and all France would have to do is draw versus the Ukraine since they have the better head to head versus Italy. If this is confusing that is fine, it just goes to show how tight this group is.

The bottom line is this - France must win their last three games. The winner of Italy - Scotland will win the group, the loser might not go to the Euro. And of course all this changes if Ukraine find 3 points in Scotland.....ahhhh too bad Zidane is not coming out of retirement this time to save our butts......we cannot forget that the defending World Cup champion in 1999 was on the verge of not making the Euro having lost at home to Russia and drawn away to Iceland. They would end up qualifying by the skin of their teeth, and we all know how their Euro 2000 turned out. Maybe history can repeat itself.

Monday, September 10, 2007

France - Scotland....role reversal for Les Bleus

Just like France only needed a draw this past Saturday heading into San Siro, so the Scots would be tickled pink leaving Parc Des Princes with a point this Wednesday. France will be tasked with finding a way to breach the 5 player Scottish midfield and strong back line to find the goals to secure the 3 points.

And since this is a pivotal match, both sides have cranked up the rhetoric...Domenech has stated that Scotland is favorites in the group, Fletcher has stated that Domenech is clearly trying to insight the team, and the Scots in general have stated that the French do not respect them. Not sure how the French cannot respect them and at the same time state they are favorites....but anyways such is the war of words for bulletin board material.

So what can we expect in tomorrows show down? I believe that Scotland, rightfully so, believe they have a legitimate chance of stealing 1 if not all 3 points in Paris. They will most likely leverage the same tactics - play defensive, have 9 field players behind the ball at all times, allow the French to pass the ball in the French half and midfield only to stub their toes on the Scotish defense packed around the 18 yard box. Scotland will then look to strike on counters as well as set pieces. This worked very well last year in the game in Scotland. France was constantly frustrated by the Scotish defense and both Henry and Trezeguet were frustrated in not being able to find any space nor service from the midfielders.

What could be different this time around? I believe three keys are different this game versus the one in Scotland.

  • First, Anelka is present this time. I could argue that Anelka has taken over the #1 striker role for Les Bleus. I realize that Henry is one goal away from matching Platini for the all time leading goal scorer for France and that Trezeguet is on 4 goals from 2 matches in the Italian Serie A. But Anelka has brought something different to the French attack, the ability to take on defenders one on one as well as attack high balls. Both these skills will be crucial if France is to break down the Scotish defense.
  • Second, the emergence of play maker Nasri, assuming Domenech plays the young Marseille midfielder in the middle of the pitch. The one element the French missed during their game at Scotland it was clear they did not have the play maker needed to find the right lock combination to the Scotish defense. If Domenech plays a midfield of Ribery - Nasri - Malouda with Anelka up front, this might be the right combination to break down the Scots. With Ribery and Malouda's speed on the wings and Nasri in the middle, the 5 player Scotish midfield should be tested.
  • Finally, Escude, Gallas or Mexes will find themselves along side Thuram, not the plodding Boumsong. In the match in Scotland, Boumsong did a decent job, for him, covering the Scotish strikers. But brought absolutely nothing on the offensive side, something any of the above mentioned players will bring to the table.
So having said that, what will happen?

I think France will find a way to get the full 3 points, but it will be very tight. Scotland will play defensive and frustrate Les Bleus. However they cannot hold on for 90 minutes and the French speed and offensive talent will find the back of the Scotish net for a small 1-0 victory.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Phew ... a 0-0 victory for Les Bleus

A bit of a nail bitter for me watching Les Bleus come out of San Siro with a precious point after drawing 0-0 with the Azurri. Not a tremendous surprise when you realize that neither team was looking to take too many chances in the match.

First, some interesting choices by Domenech starting Escude along side Thuram and putting the newest Gunner Diarra at right back, more on this later. It was clear from the beginning that Italy was playing their usually defensive style. For the first 20 minutes whenever France had the ball there were two lines of defense usually a line of 4 in the defensive midfield and a line of 5 on the 18 yard line, making any offensive efforts futile. France moved the ball around with ease but never in a position of danger. Italy proved dangerous, as always, on the counter especially Inzaghi. I was texting with Brett during the game telling him how much Inzaghi drives me crazy. He is completely useless for 98% of the game but for those 2% he can score, usually ugly poacher goals, but still a goal. Plus he really drives me crazy with all his whining, flopping and being a typical Italian diver....The second half was much more open, both teams showing their intent to try and snatch the 3 points. While Italy had the most dangerous opportunities in the first half the French had some smashing chances in the second, most notably a mad dash by Ribery on the right flank and a 1 on 1 between Anelka and Buffon. So let us go over the good bad and ugly of the match:

The Good -
  • I will give my first star to Lassana Diarra. The quietest of moves at the end of the transfer season from cross town rivals Chelsea to Arsenal I think he demonstrated his talents in this match. Winning only his 4th cap he was thrown into a highly charged game at the San Siro slotted in at right back, not a simple role with the offensive minded Ribery in front of him. The first half Diarra focused on his defensive tasks constantly shutting down Del Pierro (granted not the most difficult task since the Juventus player's skills have sadly diminished) however in light of the situation he could have easily been taken advantage of by the more experienced Italian attack. The second half he became more aggressive and pushed up the flank giving solid support to the French attack while still defending admirably. I wonder if Mourinho is regretting allowing the little Frenchman escape to the Emirates where you know the Professor will get even more out of the talented midfielder/defender.\
  • Gattuso was once again the engine for the Italians. He was everywhere, tackling, defending, going for 50-50 balls and even sticking his feet into the attack. No surprise he was the one Italian player that appeared to have had a bucket of water poured on his kit by the end of the match. He did pick up a yellow card and that means he will miss this week's game at Ukraine, something to keep an eye on.
  • Vieira and Makelele much like Gattuso both are the engines of the French midfield. Those who said that Pat's career was on the down side were far from correct. He was a rock in the French midfield, mixing it up and not being afraid to launch attacks. Makelele was once again providing the yeoman's work in the midfield defensively. The one area of concern was Makelele having too much time on the ball offensively, France need to have a striker or offensive midfield check back quicker to get a first ball from Keke otherwise the attack can bog down...not that Keke is a bad passer but he should not be the 1st option when it comes to starting the attacks.
  • The keepers were both solid in the match. Buffon made a difficult save in the first half against a vicious volley from Malouda and an fantastic anticipation save against Anelka in the second half. He did misplay a chip into the box where Anelka almost made him pay dearly. The same can be said of Landreau. He made all the saves necessary and a vital save in the first half on another botched set piece mess up by the French on a corner kick. Both teams were able to rely on their back stops for security.
  • Cannavaro - No matter what the Spanish press says he remains one of the world's best central defenders. His positioning and anticipation is amazing.
The Bad -
  • While I am not sure it was really "bad" the Anelka - Henry combo upfront was rather silent for much of the game. Granted the Italian defense really clamped down on the French duo, but I expected more. The one area that I think they could have taken more advantage of was attacking the Italian defense. Too many times Henry or Anelka received the ball with some space, granted there were 3-4 defenders between themselves and the goal, however these players have shown in the past an ability and audacity to take on and beat such numbers. All it would have taken was one time for the Italian defense to make a mistake and the outcome could have been much different.
  • France's substitutions....oh wait there really weren't any. Why do I say this is bad? Because France had a chance late in the game to inject a little different angle on the game...maybe take out Henry and insert Gouvou ( not my favorite, I would have liked to see Nasri on the bench instead) who would have played a bit deeper potentially forcing the Italians out a bit more. Or even throw in Trezeguet for the last 20 minutes and throw some crosses into the box to see if he cannot latch onto one. The one substitution was defensive, bringing on Toulalan for Ribery. But if that is what France had planned they should have done so with 20 minutes left, allowed Malouda to move to behind the strikers, played three defensive midfielders and really looked to strike on the break for the last 20 minutes.
The Ugly -

  • The Italian diving team....it still drives me crazy watching the Italians flop all over the place. Inzaghi gets touched and goes down like a house of cards. They have so much talent that they do not need to play that style...but I guess it is in their genes.
  • French defending of set pieces, how can a national team be so TERRIBLE defending crosses and dead balls? Landreau had to bail his defense out after a completely botched first half corner kick, where Cannavro easily beat Abidal to the spot. The French then demonstrated how to not defend corners...allowing a flick on from Camoranesi to dangerously fall to an onrushing Inzaghi....to then allowing an unmarked Italian defender take a 20 meter unimpeded run into the box. This part of the game really scares me for Les Bleus....even my weekend pub league team defends a little better than that.
  • Makelele's shot in the second half...I know that is by far not why he is on the pitch but I think that my cousin from Dublin could have at least placed the ball within 5 feet of the net.....
Overall, France heads home happy with the point. They know that they control their destiny, if they can beat the Scots on Wednesday they are all but assured a spot in next year's Euro. Italy while not in a bad position, still have a lot of work to do. They are heading to Kiev this Weds and need all three points, knowing they also need to travel to Scotland to face the gadfly that is Scotland.

I can sleep a little easier tonight, but Wednesday game is an important one for Les Bleus, they cannot allow themselves to be surprised again by the Scots.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Wenger signs on for 3 more years

Good news from North London, the "Professor" has extended with Arsenal for 3 more seasons. This is great news for the Gunners and better news that he will not be "attracted" to take over the dysfunctional English national team, not that I believe he would ever consider the role. A few years ago the French national team sniffed around the possibility of having Wenger manage Les Bleus. Wenger stated that he would rather not take over as a national team manager since you do not get to work with the players on a daily basis...plus if your nation has no quality left back you cannot go out and sign a quality one from another country!

I would have been devastated if the Professor took over the English National team, it might actually turn them into a true contender!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

France faces major test

I have been neglectful of my blog for the past few days....then again that is what happens when you have a baby...well my wife had the baby I just share in the lack of sleep!

But I had to put some thoughts to keyboard prior to the France v Italy match this weekend. This game will go a long way to determining who from group B will head to Austria - Switzerland for next years Euro championship. The first match up, in Paris, was a complete undressing of the Italians by Les Bleus. The score could have been a much more heavy defeat had Buffon not made some fantastic saves. However only 2 points separate the two neighbors, due in large part to the draw Italy suffered versus Lithuania at home...inexcusable! Both teams have a loss, Italy versus France, and France versus Scotland (also inexcusable). So this match will be vital for both nations.

Why France must win - France has a 2 point lead on Italy and 3 on Scotland, however the loss to the Scots means France cannot not afford to lose another match. If they can come out of Milan with a point or better yet the full 3 points they will have one foot into Euro 2008. I believe that if France is to qualify they will need to win one of the following road games - Italy or on the last day in the Ukraine. I think it is crucial for the French psyche that they get that win sooner rather than later. It is also crucial for a good result in Milan since the Scots visit the Parc des Princes 4 days later, if France head into that match coming off a loss the pressure will be huge maybe too much for a team that is not at full strength (no Vieira, Sagnol, Coupet or Gallas). Finally, a win from France could potentially knock out one of their potential rivals at the Euro, the Azurri, while not the same as having won the World Cup some modicum of revenge.

Why Italy must win -
Italy is the team on the hot seat, the 2 points lost to Lithuania at home looms large over the heads of the Azurri. They still have tricky ties at Ukraine and at Scotland, much like Les Bleus they rather not enter these two matches with increased pressure to win, especially since these other nations have aspirations of securing one of the spots to the Euro. After a poor showing post world cup - the 1-1 draw to Lithuania and the 3-1 drubbing from Hungary (mind you this is not the Hungary of Puskas), Donadoni is on the hot seat in Italy. He cannot afford to have the same fate visit this version of the Azurri as did the last squad that won the World Cup - the 1984 Euros were without the then defending World Cup Champs from 1982....Italia who failed to qualify.

So what will happen? This is a difficult match to predict, so many players are missing from both sides. France are without Coupet, Gallas, Sagnol and probably Vieira. Italy without enemy #1 Materazzi as well as Toni. Due to these losses both nations have questions as to who will back bone their defense. France, should, turn to the talented Roma player Mexes to shoulder the load with Thuram. However Italy has a problem as to who to pair with Cannavaro, especially with Nesta having retired from international football (which makes sense since he always seemed to find himself injured in big tournaments). Italy will most likely build on Inzagi up front without Toni....which means look for ugly attempts at goal from the AC Milan poacher.

As for Les Bleus, the loss of Vieira will hurt, but I believe that Domenech will look to Makelele and Toulalan to shoulder the holding/defensive midfielding duties. The question mark for me will be in goal with Landreau. The former Nantes youth player has all the talent in the world and has been the consummate professional with the French national team, always the bridesmaid rarely the bride, most games he started were against "powerhouses" such as Faroe Islands. But he is one of the better keepers in Ligue 1, arguably single handedly keeping PSG up last season. However this is different, this is playing one of the world's football powers, in their backyard in a vital game. How Landreau goes so will France.

Prediction -

France 2 - Italy 0 Goals from Ribery and Anelka....bold prediction, yes, but I think that Italy is in too much turmoil especially after losing 3-1 to Hungary in a friendly. Without their #1 striker and their punk rock central defender the squad has too many question marks. I think that Anelka and Henry will give the Italian defense too much creativity and speed to handle. Even with this loss I think Italy will still qualify for the Euro....

Allez Les Bleus!